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Summary:  A galactic tribunal sends the Manhunters to track down Green Lantern John Stewart, who is accused of destroying the planet Ajuris 4.  Stewart turns himself in to stand trial, but the Justice League, who believe him to be innocent, investigate.  Meanwhile, the Manhunters have their own plans, and use the distraction of the trial as a chance to pay back an ancient grudge.

JL Roll Call:  Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, J’onn J’onzz, Hawkgirl

GLC Roll Call:  John Stewart, Arkkis Chummuck, Galius-Zed, Kilowog, Larvox, Tomar-Re

Featured Character:  Green Lantern

Villains:  The Manhunters

Supporting Villain:  Kanjar Ro

 

Cartoon Network on “In Blackest Night”:  “A group of indestructible android enforcers called the Manhunters arrive on Earth to arrest Green Lantern for abuses of power.  While Green Lantern stands trial, the Justice League discovers the Manhunters' true agenda:  the total destruction of the Green Lantern Corps” (courtesy of Cartoon Network).

Phil LaMarr on “In Blackest Night” (circa 2005):  “This episode was fantastic because you got to see that John Stewart is a guy who comes from an underprivileged background.  To me, he always seemed like the kid who joined the Army and moved up…only he moved way up.  Like, in a galactic sense!

“It’s [also] one of my favorite episodes because I got to say the Green Lantern oath.  I had those lines memorized!  And it wasn’t just Lantern recharging his ring in a closet; they worked it into the climax of the story” (courtesy of ToyFare Magazine).

Rich Fogel on "In Blackest Night" (circa 2001):  “Even with a 90-minute pilot like 'Secret Origins,' there wasn’t enough time to do ‘justice’ to all seven of our main characters.  But in the next episode, 'In Blackest Night,' we’ll start to learn more about our heroes and their backgrounds.  Although this story features John Stewart—the Green Lantern—it also highlights Hawkgirl and Flash, plus [has] several surprises.  Stan Berkowitz wrote the script and it was directed by Butch Lukic.  Both did an outstanding job on a story that has intergalactic consequences” (courtesy of [website name removed]).

Bruce Timm on "In Blackest Night" (circa 2003):  “'In Blackest Night' was actually inspired by [Justice League of America #140-141, which] had […] Green Lantern tricked into thinking that he had destroyed a planet and it turned out to be a big plot by the Manhunters.  That was the direct springboard for this episode.  We thought it was a really good, strong way to introduce the John Stewart character as Green Lantern—to show his deeper, more melancholy side—[and] what better way than to start off with, right off the bat, [him] thinking that he destroyed a whole planet?” (courtesy of the Justice League:  Justice on Trial DVD).

Bruce Timm on “In Blackest Night” (circa 2005):  “It’s got a few logic holes in it, but that comes with the territory, I suppose.  We were pretty happy with it when we got it back.  You can definitely see that we were trying to step up our game just in terms of spectacle, especially in Part Two with the big battle on Oa with the thousands of Manhunters versus the Justice League and the Green Lanterns.  We were pretty impressed ourselves with what they were able to pull off overseas, just because we’d never really done set pieces that had that many characters in motion at the same time, but I think it came out pretty well.

”I was a little bit reluctant when the story was first pitched to me—to have the first Green Lantern story to be one in which he’s taken down a peg.  I thought it might not have been the best way to introduce him as a character to show him in disgrace.  Ultimately I think it worked out kind of well because it showed his grace under fire and his willingness to accept what he had done and the consequence of it.  I think it’s a pretty good character display for him.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with that episode” (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).

Stan Berkowitz on “In Blackest Night” (circa 2005):  “Just presenting a legal system that was basically a farce…I don’t know where I came up with that idea.  Actually, come to Los Angeles some time and take a look at our legal system—I think that was my inspiration.  I think what happened was Rich Fogel came to me with the idea of adapting a comic story that involved Hal Jordan, but he wanted it switched over to John Stewart.  We had to modify it a lot, which takes a lot of patience.  But the thing that stands out is taking a few pokes at our legal system” (courtesy of RetroVision CD-ROM Magazine).

Dwayne McDuffie on “In Blackest Night” (circa 2004):  [“In Blackest Night”] was based on an old seventies comic.  In both the comic and the show—as opposed to Cosmic Odyssey, [where] Green Lantern was an arrogant fuck-up—he was tricked into believing he did something wrong and honorably agreed to take his punishment.  […] I’d never punk out John Stewart like [they did in Cosmic Odyssey].  I’m still mad” (courtesy of Delphi Forums).

 

Images

Screen Grabs from "In Blackest Night"

"In Blackest Night" Image #1 | "In Blackest Night" Image #2 | "In Blackest Night" Image #3

"In Blackest Night" Image #4

 

Commentary

"Think of the others like us.  We all need to be held accountablewe have too much power not to be."

Green Lantern (to the Flash) in "In Blackest Night"

I’ll be the first to admit that, in the past, I’ve been overly-critical of this episode; in fact, I often lump it in with the infamous “War World” in terms of quality.  On the surface, you can hardly blame me—it shared the same woes as “Secret Origins” (generic synthesizer music, bad dialogue), but lacked the goodwill that it possessed (“Origins” could have been utter crap, but most fans would have been satisfied simply because it was made).  In addition, the creative team cut corners, reusing many of the alien designs from Superman, and reduced the Flash to being a complete idiot for the sake of a few laughs (I don’t know which was worse:  his inability to pilot the Javelin or his awful O.J. Simpson joke).  However, by searching a little deeper, one can discover the episode’s more profound flaws.

Loosely based on Justice League of America #140-141 (March-April 1977), “In Blackest Night” suffers by simply occurring too early in the series.  As the plot revolves around the supposed disgrace of Green Lantern, the tension doesn’t cut as deep as it could have because here the audience barely knows John Stewart and, as a consequence, we don’t connect with him emotionally the same way that we would the Stewart of Justice League Unlimited, or even the Stewart of Season Two.  Also, it becomes apparent with each viewing that his trial is less about justice for Ajuris 4 and more about sending the Guardians a message—the authorities sanctioning the trial do not approve of the paramilitary organization that the Guardians have created or the decisions they impose, and they wish to challenge their standing in the universe.  Again, it is too early in the series to introduce this sort of drama—our first introduction to the Green Lantern Corps is a negative one (the Superman episode “In Brightest Day” notwithstanding); the introduction of this anti-Green Lantern sentiment across several earlier episodes would have provided additional resonance to this story.

The most curious decision, however, is in the episode’s handling of John Stewart himself.  While it should be expected that the characterization of Green Lantern would be rocky in the first handful of episodes—especially since this is only the character’s second appearance—it should be expected that his characterization be consistent within the confines “In Blackest Night” itself.  While the episode did provide a good introduction to his feelings of isolation and duty, it completely dropped the ball in regards to his interaction with other characters.  Allow me to explain:  John Stewart believed that he was responsible for the destruction of Ajuris 4.  When confronted by the Manhunters he willingly surrendered his ring, and he didn’t bother to defend himself at his trial.  He was ready to accept his punishment—to martyr himself for the Corps—but then, at the last second, he found out that he wasn’t guilty.  Suddenly, he was back to being a hard-ass, and blew off his fellow Green Lanterns (including Kilowog, who testified on his behalf) with a, “Yeah, you should have believed in me.”  This is inconsistent—why was he so hard on others for condemning him while he believed that he did it himself?  The only way that this characterization and, in a larger sense, this episode works is as a meta-reference; in this regard, this episode isn’t about John Stewart being falsely accused for destroying Ajuris 4, it’s about the character’s penance for his actions in Cosmic Odyssey.

In 1988, DC Comics published Cosmic Odyssey, a four-part crossover event that featured the DC Universe heroes combating the encroaching threat of Anti-Life within their universe.  In this series, John Stewart failed to save the planet Xanshi from destruction due to his own hubris (he ignored the council of J’onn J’onzz and went alone to defuse a bomb, only to discover that the bomb was yellow—the power ring’s only weakness at the time).  Considering that “In Blackest Night” was about Stewart going to trial over the destruction of a planet, this could be seen as an attempt to clear away the stain of this earlier incident from the character's broader reputation.

In addition to functioning as cross-genre damage control, we should also take into account Stewart’s other image problem coming into the episode—the fact that he was chosen at all.  When Justice League was first announced, the decision to use John Stewart over the other major Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner) was the most hotly debated aspect of the series.  People fought over the creative team’s decision for months, arguing that he wasn’t “good enough” a character to use on the animated show.  Considering this matter, it could also be argued that “Night” was meant to justify Stewart’s inclusion to fans by putting him in a Hal Jordan story and showing how this version of the character could handle a situation as Jordan would have done, thus legitimizing his claim to the role.  In this context, Stewart was not condemning his fellow Lanterns for not believing in him; he was admonishing his detractors for not believing he would be a worthy Green Lantern for the series.

Elaborate justifications and meta-contexts aside, this episode did offer some interesting material, such as Superman being the one to solve the mystery in Batman’s absence (although it begs the question:  why didn’t the authorities pick up on the fact that the moon was still orbiting a planet that didn’t exist?) and the first bit of foreshadowing in regards to “Starcrossed,” with Hawkgirl’s big, cheshire grin in response to the Flash’s inquires about the existence of a “Hawkboy.”  However, this episode may have been too ambitious for so early in the series and, as a consequence, it was not as good as it could have been.

 

Images courtesy of Toon Zone and DC Cartoon Archives.

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